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Pride, speeches and nerves fill Gulf High's ceremony

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- As Pomp and Circumstance began clanging from the Gulf High School gym, the string of 259 emerald green-robed graduates stood outside perfectly alphabetized and squirming.

They fixed their makeup. They rearranged their tassels. They giggled, hugged, and devised strategies on how not to trip as they stepped on stage.

Joe Dan Fagan grappled with mixed feelings.

"I'm very excited. I can't wait, but it's sort of sad, too," Fagan said.

As Christine McCormack hustled to catch up with the line proceeding in without her, only one sensation came to mind: "Nervous. I'm nervous!"

Inside, families, friends and teachers juggled video cameras, wet tissues, and valiant efforts to flag down the graduates they'd come to cheer on. For them, the emotions were a little more clear-cut.

"You think of them as babies and it just doesn't seem possible that they've come this far," said Martha Nichols, whose grandson Joshua Bergeron was her fourth grandchild to graduate from Gulf High.

Principal Cheryl Renneckar told seniors she was proud of all they'd accomplished.

They earned $314,675 of scholarship money. They volunteered 1,000 of their hours to tutor kids at Marlowe Elementary School. Jamie Lamb and Hana Stover earned commendations from the National Merit Society. Eleven seniors earned 1200 or higher on their SATs. Ten seniors were selected as All-Academic Sunshine Athletic Conference athletes. Rennacker urged them on to more.

"Look for your opportunity to make a positive difference in the world," she said. "Those who make a difference are regular, ordinary citizens."

Salutatorian Barbara Carr quoted Shakespeare and urged her classmates to let every book, every person, every piece of advice shape their instincts, goals, motives and values. Carr, who also was Runner of the Year and All-Academic Sunshine Athletic Conference for Cross Country, reminded them that hard work pays off and that life is not fair.

Valedictorian and GHS Outstanding Student David Pirman quoted lessons he'd learned from his seasons in the baseball fields. Pirman, who also was All-Academic Sunshine Athletic Conference for baseball, urged his classmates to enjoy every ounce of sweat, thirst, joy and heartbreak in every inning of life. He told them that as much as he loved victory, the experience of showering off dirt and regrets at an evening's end was as valuable as a game-winning "thwack!' of the aluminum bat as it hits the baseball.

Finally the time came to hand the Class of 2001 their diplomas.

Melissa Tirrell had been sitting silently near the back of the gym, waiting to see her daughter Lisa pass the milestone.

Her tears had been welling up and falling all day long.

"It all just goes so fast," she said.

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